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Luigi Russolo’s Intonarumori

Luigi Russolo’s Intonarumori

Noise is Music

Noise is Music

Russolo

Russolo

Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky

Metal Machine Music

Metal Machine Music was an album released in 1975 by Lou Reed. Unlike the popular music of the time, it featured no separate songs or even recognizable compositions, but consisted of 64 minutes of guitar feedback.

To compose it, Reed tuned two guitars in different ways, and used different levels of reverb. Then he placed them in front of large amplifiers, so that when he plucked the strings, the amps would make the strings vibrate. In effect, the guitars played themselves.

Though this album made Reed a laughingstock at the time, it is now considered a pioneering work in noise music, especially noise rock.

Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky was born in 1882 in Oranienbaum, Russia. His first passion was music, and he learned how to play the piano at a young age. Although his parents wanted him to go into law, he began to take private lessons from famed composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1905.

In 1908, he composed a short piece for orchestra called Feu d’Artifice. When the director of the Ballets Russes heard this, he commissioned Stravinsky to compose music for a ballet called The Firebird.

Shortly after this, in 1910, Stravinsky moved to Switzerland where he composed ballets such as Petrushka and his most famous work The Rite of Spring. The latter is a good example of noise music, and is revolutionary both melodically and rhythmically. For example, Stravinsky used dissonance extensively to add energy to the piece, as well as utilizing ostinati (repeated rhythms), asymmetry, and polyrhythms in the work. Indeed, The Rite of Spring was so strange that when it was first performed in 1913, it caused a riot in Paris.

Later in his life, Stravinsky moved to France, then the United States. In the former he turned to neoclassicism; in the latter he experimented with serialism. He died in 1971 in New York City.

Compositional Techniques

Noise music usually lacks a melody or a chord progression, and instead relies on other aspects such as tempo and dynamics to create and manipulate emotions.

Harmonies are often used: major intervals creating happy emotions, minor intervals being sad, and dissonant harmonies creating chaotic sounds. Microtonal intervals are often used, as they create dissonance and unusual sounds, and their notes clash. These include quarter-tones and inconstant sounds (i.e. glissando, vibrato, pitch modulation).

Some noise music uses machine sounds, as well as other blaring noises (i.e. feedback) to create effects. While these noises do not create harmonies or melodies, they can create rhythms. These rhythms can be manipulated to influence emotions as tempos can turn something that sounds slow and lazy into something fast and aggressive; and a slight change in time signature, say from 6/8 to 7/8, can make something simple very complex and confusing.

Arguably, nothing influences emotions more than dynamics. Loud music/sounds can seem powerful while quiet music can appear gentle, or serene. Dynamic changes such as crescendos and accents create stimulating effects. Using dynamics to their full extent can make the world of difference in a piece.

Stravinsky’s Sacre is a great example of using noises to their full extent to manipulate emotions. For example: the use of fast, loud, and sporadic sections overtaking a quiet rhythmic section creates a feeling of panic and fear.

The Futurist Intonarumori by Russolo

Luigi Russolo

Luigi Russolo was an Italian Futurist composer, most famous for writing The Art of Noises, a noise music manifesto. In it, he states that in ancient times, life was silent compared to today, because of a dearth of loud, artificial sounds. The first music was simple and limited by the use of only consonant intervals, such as the perfect fourth and the perfect fifth. Gradually, dissonance was introduced, until the pure music of the ancients evolved into Futurist music full of strange and harsh chords.

This evolution in music is paralleled by the permeation of everyday life by machines, which produce many dissonant sounds. This has attuned human ears to such dissonances. Therefore, Russolo suggests that these noises should be harnessed:

Away! Let us break out since we cannot much longer restrain our desire to create finally a new musical reality, with a generous distribution of resonant slaps in the face, discarding violins, pianos, double-basses and plainitive organs. Let us break out!

For this purpose, Russolo created “intonarumori”, machines especially built for creating noise music. He composed multiple noise music pieces, including Gran Concerto Futuristico and a four-part piece of what he called “networks of noise”. Both caused riots when they were performed. Still, he is regarded as one of the founding fathers of bruitisme.

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      This limited circle of pure sounds must be broken, and the infinite variety of “noise-sound” conquered.

The Art of Noises (Luigi Russolo)

      My music is best understood by children and animals.

— Igor Stravinsky

Background

Bruitisme first appeared in the early twentieth century. On March 9th in 1913, Luigi Russolo published his manifesto L’arte dei Rumori. He theorized the industrial revolution would increase people’s capacity too appreciate complex sounds. This was an important paradigm for contemporary music which introduced the idea that music was less for a structured system and more for the individual. 

The essence of music is what is perceived.

At a time when futuristic painting and abstraction had become popular, it makes sense that people would begin to approach music as individual sounds. Composers enjoyed freedom from a confined set of rules. Fueled by an artistic atmosphere where disillusioned musicians, painters, and dancers rejected Romanticism, composers explored the general sounds that created music far from what Western Europeans had been used to.

Noisy beauty was not for the beauty of music but the beauty in which the audience sees.

A new range of percussion instruments were used to enhance noise music and were developed for the purpose. The influence of people such as Edgar Varese (and to some degree, John Cage) helped people to see beyond trained musical sounds and notes. For the modernists, non-musical sounds became musical and everything became about the layers of organized sound.

Melodic-harmonic devices became useless to those who waned to explore.

Fostered by their disenchantment with the society around them and the works of the romantic era as well as philosophically supported by nihilism and postmodernism, musicians were often aggressive and vehement in their sound creation and roused audiences. 

Salonen conducting Stravinsky’s Le Sacre de Printemps


This piece was written when Stravinsky had already begun experimenting with less than conventional pieces such as Petrushka and The Firebird. The Rite of Spring was even more controversial and was composed for Nijinsky’s choreography for a radically different ballet. At the 1913 premiere, the opening caused catcalls and absolute chaos as the audience booed angrily.

Leonard Bernstein once said “it’s got the best dissonances anyone ever thought up, the best asymmetries and polytonalities and polyrhythms and whatever else you care to name.” 

Bruitisme: A Definition

From the French for “noise music”, musique bruitiste is a genre characterized by sounds commonly perceived as unpleasant, with discord and clashing harmonies. As a break from the traditional definitions of music, artists focus less on the aesthetic and more on the pure sound. Its structure, meaning, and effects have no rules and provide a different experience for each listener.